We’ve all been there: work deadlines, pressure to stay fit, trying to fit in time with friends so you don’t feel like a hermit AND trying to find that often elusive but ever talked about ‘me time.’ This is typical modern life with constant demands from work, home and social life, and it is normal to feel stressed when all these things often collide or when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fit it all in (let alone do it with grace and ease)! Because of this, most of us exist in a state of chronic stress ALL THE TIME without knowing it and we have become accustomed to feeling this way (i.e. chronic low energy, food cravings, sleeping badly etc.).
Integrative and Holistic Medicine, Dr. Dani shares her thoughts on the MindBody connection.
When we are in this state of chronic stress, we get sick more, have digestive issues, weight gain, low energy and can start to suffer with real physical symptoms that seem to come out of nowhere. Often, when I ask someone if they think they are stressed, they say, “well no, not more than usual’ or ‘well, I guess I’m just normal and it’s nothing I can’t deal with.” But our bodies and minds are not biologically equipped for modern life and constant ‘mental threats’ (ie. the daily seemingly minor stresses) of modern life actually trick your body and mind into ‘doing the wrong thing,’ biologically. This mistake can lead to major health issues and just feeling exhausted or burned out.
What the Research on Stress Shows
So how does stress actually do all of this? Chronic mental threats of our daily lives, i.e. the daily minor hassles, worries and annoyances we all have every day, can actually change your brain over time and cause different brain areas to become more active, including the stress pathways.
Your brain is the control centre of your nervous system and also oversees your immune, metabolism and energy systems and tells each of these systems what to do. Chronic stress actually causes physical changes in your brain activity that have been proven with recent brain imaging studies by researchers at Harvard University’s Henry Benson Institute—activating and strengthening the stress circuits at the expense of our healthy relaxation brain pathways. Specific areas of the brain that light up under chronic stress or daily ‘mental threats’ of modern life include the amygdala (the part of your brain that processes fear and other emotions) pathways. The prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain needed for complex decision making, planning and higher level functioning) of your brain gets also gets turned off, i.e. doesn’t light up the way it should normally when the nervous system is in a calm, peaceful, non-stressed state.
HPA Axis Hyperactivity
It’s now been proven that MindBody techniques like simple meditations, active relaxation and therapeutic yoga techniques can actually change these stress pathways in the brain. They can actually rewire your brain and stop the chronic stress overload from wreaking havoc on your immune system by decreasing this thing called HPA axis hyperactivity, which is one of the central underlying problems in chronic medical conditions like anxiety, chronic fatigue, IBS, PMS, insomnia and trouble losing belly fat despite exercise and eating healthy.
HPA stands for Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis. It is the main stress pathway connecting key areas of your brain to your body organs that manage stress, like your adrenal glands on top of your kidneys. It goes haywire due to the chronic mental threats of modern life, and results in high circulating stress hormones, ‘pooped out’ adrenal glands, subclinical thyroid issues, low immunity and digestive issues just to name a few.
Luckily, the solution is not to quit your job and go live in a cave in the mountains! You can actually enjoy the perks of a modern urban life without all the trouble it can cause you if you ‘buffer’ those chronic mental threats with a daily 15-20 minute MindBody practice. This is what MindBody Medicine & Integrative Medicine is all about! For me, this is my yoga practice, which I do every morning before breakfast and includes pranayama, asana and meditation, and changes each day to suit my needs that day. It doesn’t have to be complicated or take hours—that just isn’t practical!
How To Get Energized Now
If you need a few suggestions to get you started, you can check out Dr. Dani , where she has 20 minute yoga for beginners video, and lots of 5 minute beginner meditation and breathing videos & many more free tools so you can start feeling more energized this week and break out of chronic stress overload!
Dr. Dani, MD, CCFP, ABIHM is a Canadian Medical Doctor & American Board Certified in Integrative and Holistic Medicine. Dr Dani is trained as both a Conventional Medical Doctor with further specialization in Integrative Medicine, an emerging field of medicine that combines the best of modern medical science with evidence-based effective natural approaches.
Her expertise within Integrative Medicine lies in MindBody Medicine, which shows you how to harness the power of the brain and mind to conquer real physical health problems such as insomnia, weight loss, anxiety & stress, digestion problems & IBS, and low immunity. She is also an expert in Nutritional Medicine.